Willard, 23, who received a $2,000 signing bonus from the Titans as an undrafted free agent, is being lauded for coming to the aid of a family whose car had caught fire Tuesday on Interstate 40 between Knoxville and Nashville, Tennessee.
“I saw this car in front of me,” Willard says, “and it had all kinds of black smoke coming out of it. I tried to speed up and get up next to the car to let them know the car was on fire.”
The NFL hopeful was driving from South Carolina to Tennessee for Titans training camp when he saw the smoking Chevrolet SUV on the road ahead of him. Willard tried to warn the driver of the car, but the woman at the wheel, Cheri Hubbard, believed the smoke was coming from a nearby 18-wheeler, so she continued to drive.
When Willard saw flames begin to shoot out of the back of the car, he began blowing his horn and flashing his lights until the SUV finally pulled over. Willard pulled up a safe distance behind and ran to the SUV.
“As soon as I got to the car,” Willard says, “I saw three small kids in the backseat and a dog. So for me, I’m thinking, ‘Hurry up and get everybody out and get them away from the car.’ You could see, probably up under the engine, all that was still on fire. So I’m thinking the car might go up anytime.”
Willard and another motorist helped remove the family moments before the SUV exploded into flames.
“I was just glad that we got the kids and all of them out of the car,” he says. “I was thinking that I was just doing what everybody else would do, but there were cars just going past us and no one else was stopping, so I don’t know if that is what would happen or not.”
“I just feel like I was in the right place at the right time,” Willard humbly admits. “I give all the glory to God. I just felt like I was there for a reason.”
At a time when professional athletes outside of the sports pages are too often murderers, domestic abusers, dopers and cheats, it’s refreshing to hear about one who is a hero in the true sense of the word.